Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Linda Thompson [extended]

  • Hokey Pokey [Island, 1974] A
  • Pour Down Like Silver [Island, 1976] B+
  • First Light [Chrysalis, 1978] B
  • Sunnyvista [Chrysalis, 1980] B+
  • Shoot Out the Lights [Hannibal, 1982] A
  • One Clear Moment [Warner Bros., 1985] B
  • Fashionably Late [Rounder, 2002] **
  • Versatile Heart [Rounder, 2007] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Richard & Linda Thompson: Hokey Pokey [Island, 1974]
Richard Thompson may not be quite the "refugee" he believes--folkies have a way of romanticizing anything down-and-outside--but one-eyed Smiffy, big-spending Georgie, prematurely mature Billy, and the denizens of the Egypt Room are certainly a vivid cast of outcasts. And not only does he know about love gone wrong--"I'll Regret It All in the Morning" is as bleak as relationship songs get--he also knows about ice cream. A

Richard & Linda Thompson: Pour Down Like Silver [Island, 1976]
I wish there were an American folk duo that combined such engaging music with such committed intelligence. (The McGarrigles don't count--they're Canadian.) But since neither pessimism nor private poetry guarantees profundity, I also wish these lyrics earned their dourness as persuasively as the music does. Irresistible: "Hard Luck Stories." B+

Richard & Linda Thompson: First Light [Chrysalis, 1978]
Richard T. has always redeemed corny themes with a humor dry enough to be mistaken for nasty, as when he includes "I'll punch you in the nose" in a list of odd jobs he'll do. But nowhere else on "Restless Highway," "Sweet Surrender," and "The Choice Wife Died for Love"--the bulk of side one--do the lyrics deviate from the expectable. Just as distressing, the guitar veers away from Thompson's unique, timeless modalism toward the studio country-rock favored by new sidemen Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark. I love "Strange Affair," one of his greatest death songs yet, and still find the austere harmonies bracing. But I want the Thompsons' pervasive Anglicism straight when I want it at all. B

Richard & Linda Thompson: Sunnyvista [Chrysalis, 1980]
Back to Fairport conventions after their El Lay lies vanished into the ether, and of course it's a disgrace that an "independent" label won't let Americans hear the stomp and clang and clamor of real folk-rock--Richard's storehouse of strange licks, tunes, and styles just add to his axemanship, and Linda's acid contralto is a lead instrument. But though only the heavy-handed title satire lacks surface charm, the songwriting is thin--too many ordinary ideas aren't twisted the way his most striking phrases would have you believe. Also, are "Justice in the Streets" and its praise-Allah chorus about Teheran? Or am I just being paranoid? B+

Richard & Linda Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights [Hannibal, 1982]
News of the wife's solitary return to England brings this relationship-in-crisis album home--including the husband's "bearded lady" warning in "The Wall of Death," ostensibly a synthesis of his thanatotic urge and lowlife tic. If poor Richard's merely "A Man in Need," I'm an ayatollah, but I have to give him credit--these are powerfully double-edged metaphors for the marriage struggle, and "Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?" is as damning an answer song as Linda could wish. A

One Clear Moment [Warner Bros., 1985]
Nothing like a busted marriage to bring out the latent feminism in a woman, and this one has a mouth on her--"Hell, High Water and Heartache" makes me wonder whether she got cheated out of some publishing on "Hard Luck Stories." So lyrics, while not always brilliant, aren't the problem. Problem's musical conception, which between producer Hugh Murphy and collaborator Betsy Cook turns this into the best Carly Simon record I've heard in a while. B

Fashionably Late [Rounder, 2002]
relocating her folk roots with a male musical-domestic collaborator--her son Teddy ("Weary Life," "Dear Mary") **

Versatile Heart [Rounder, 2007]
Wiser than her ex, nicer, subtler--but, admittedly, less dynamic ("Beauty," "Give Me a Sad Song"). ***

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